How to Overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder

Are you starting to experience the winter blues? This winter may feel even more dark and depressing for many of us as we face it under the now constant stress of coronavirus measures as well. All the things that make the winter bearable will not be possible in their usual form and we can find it difficult sometimes to be motivated to get out of bed. While some of these feelings are normal, and it happens to all of us at one time or another, about 1 in 15 people in Ireland experience more severe depressive symptoms during the winter, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. In today’s post, therapist Teyhou Smyth examines SAD and its effect on people’s lives and work, and gives some tips on how best to manage this condition. As always, it helps to talk about your feelings with someone, so please reach out if you are feeling low.

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Too Busy for SAD: Here is How to Manage It All

You are drowning in a to-do list at work that is getting longer by the minute. Just a few months ago all these responsibilities didn’t faze you at all; after a productive day at work you would leave the office and enjoy the sunshine and a long evening of warm, summery bliss.

Now the days are getting shorter, the daylight is waning, and jumper weather is upon us. As the days get darker and colder, you know what is coming and it instills dread within your very soul. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and it wreaks havoc on over 2 million in the UK and Ireland every year.

What is SAD? and what are Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that coincides with the change of seasons. It impacts females more frequently than males, and it can range in intensity from mild to severe. SAD can show up in the following ways:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight gain
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Crying and tearfulness
  • Isolation/feeling lonely
  • Feelings of detachment or emotional numbness
  • Loss of energy/lethargy
  • Suicidal thoughts

SAD can feel insurmountable. It can impact all areas of life, from relationships to health to work functioning. When these symptoms creep in, people often feel as though work is practically impossible.

Managing SAD at Work

Short of moving to a location without major seasonal changes, the best way to deal with SAD at work is to manage symptoms. As with any health condition, managing SAD symptoms may not look the same for everyone. Some people may respond well to certain types of interventions, while others require a different plan. The important thing to remember is that if one method doesn’t work, do not give up. Sometimes it takes repetition and various efforts to get results.

Strive for balance:

Mental and physical health benefit from a life in balance. A simple way to remember this is within the phrase “mind, body, and spirit.” As you go through your day, try to categorise your activities into these three categories. When you eat meals, are you choosing foods that will nurture your mind, body, and spirit?

Are you interacting with people in your life who bring you joy in mind, body, and spirit? Have you been moving your body in a way that brings you satisfaction in mind, body, and spirit? Do you notice any missing links in your life that could be contributing to an out-of-balance mind, body, or spirit? Try to use this phrase as a benchmark for daily activities.

Doing this will put wellness and life balance at the forefront of your mind and will create an intention for behaviours.

Establish priorities:

Your ever-growing to-do list isn’t going anywhere, but your strategies for it can shift. Create a priority stratum for your tasks. Organise the levels in a way that works for your line of work. One example could be ordering tasks from most time-sensitive to least or ordering tasks from simplest to most complex.

If you have multiple projects going and feel overwhelmed, break each project into smaller manageable chunks that can be done in one sitting. Depressive symptoms can make us more prone to feeling overwhelmed, so the more you can simplify tasks, the better.

Use your Employee Assistance Programme:

Most companies offer EAP services for counselling, and usually these sessions are paid for by the company as part of a benefits package. Reach out to your human resources department to find out about EAP counselling options.

This will be a confidential service, as it would be with any other therapist you may see. Talking about your thoughts and feelings may help lessen the burden and you will likely come up with useful solutions to manage symptoms specific to your own situation.

See your doctor:

A consultation with your medical provider may give you useful answers about your physical and mental state. Perhaps she will order blood work to check your levels of Vitamin D and B12, both of which impact energy levels and mood. It is common for people to experience Vitamin D deficiency, particularly in fall and winter months when daylight is at its lowest point of the year. If SAD is impacting your ability to live your life as you normally would, it may be helpful to discuss medication with your physician. Even a low-dose antidepressant can be effective to curb challenges with SAD.

If you are struggling with SAD, the best thing you can do for yourself is talk about it. Keeping depression a secret only worsens the symptoms and creates greater isolation and fatigue. Whether you reach out to friends, family or join an online community for people with SAD, tell someone about it. You don’t need to struggle with this alone. Millions of others are also dealing with the same condition and it can get better.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK/Irish context.]

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Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, A94 N726